This is my 5th year of teaching high school. Although I’ve also taught and currently teach college, teaching high school students students and teaching the subject I teach has been one of the most enjoyable experiences of my life, but at the same time this path has been extremely difficult due to the often hostile climate I teach in as an Ethnic Studies/Latino Studies High School teacher. The inequities in the U.S. public education for Latinx students especially, have become more apparent due to the pandemic, but one must not forget that these inequities have always been there and not just for decades, but well over a century now.
I was aware of the challenges in our U.S. public K-12 schools first from being a student of public schools my whole life including community college, my Bachelors degree institution as well as my graduate degrees from a top ten public college of education.
Sometimes I laugh though when I think back to what it was like sitting in some grad school classes discussing policy on topics I realize now many in the room knew little about, like what goes on in K-12 schools. Unlike some of my education policy colleagues, I found out the best way a person can learn about our system is being in it, everyday and I know now there’s not too many out there who are making these policy decisions on things they know a little about that would also last one week or a day in a classroom.
I recall my first year of teaching high school and although I taught college and worked in various capacities with high school students, nothing provides a person with more insight on what goes on in schools like teaching does. This was the type of education not even a Ph.D. from a top ten education school can provide, but it is a type of education as a Teacher of Color that is also painful because it is also a reminder .
This 5th year of teaching is also the same amount of time my own son has been a student in K-12 public schools. I recall the day he came home from Kindergarten crying saying he was dumb knowing full well a teacher made him feel that way. I think to how early this mentality of inferiority is pushed upon our young people. The Education Trust West published The Majority Report. This report highlights challenges Latinx students face which include, having insufficient access to early learning, attending segregated schools, being tracked away from college prep coursework, being perceived as less academically capable, and finally Latino students feeling less connected to their school environment.
I focus on the less connected piece for a lesson during this new school year because I thought of my son and the students before me. How early in school did these feelings of being disconnected or perhaps unwelcomed begin? I know for my son it was kindergarten. For me as a Xicana teacher, it also started young and I realize those feelings of being unwelcome, and undervalued has continued as a teacher. I do see though that it is horrible to feel as if you are unwelcome, unwanted, in a place that can determine your future, like our students and the research shows Latino students experience because it impacts their opportunities. Perhaps this is why I’ve stayed teaching despite challenges knowing full well most new teachers leave within their first five years. For teachers of color, these challenges new teachers face compound.
Not a single one of us can change this system on our own, but I know I still have hope for all of us, including my students and my son. I’d like to think that perhaps my classrooms can be a space where the students feel connected or in their words feel more confident, heard, have friends, get the support they need and to feel as if they belong, have a supportive adult at school, and also that they and their history, culture, community, and contributions are valued by someone at school, is it enough to stay?
Some days I’m unsure and others I’m too tired of the daily fight. Especially when it includes fighting every year for basic essentials for things like enough desks for my students, books, and properly ventilated rooms, and then to feel unwelcome on top of it all. It’s a lot, but despite all that and no matter how long I stay, what I do know is I don’t want to just make things better for myself, but for any person who finds education to be their calling too.
Here’s to Year 5.
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